Tuesday, 21 May 2013


A few weekends ago Alex and I went to Santorini.

see, glorious
This is a fairly extravagant way to spend a few days for someone in my current earning bracket, I'll admit, but I'd booked it as a surprise Christmas present way back when both life and pay were rather different and it was non-refundable.

So, we had no choice but to go. Terrible shame that.

And to cut a 2 day story short, it was, quite simply, utterly glorious.  I cannot remember feeling so relaxed in a very, very long time. Both of us.

Not just relaxed because we were on holiday and holidays are relaxing, but also relaxed in terms of laid back about how everything panned out.

It could be said that I am something of a perfectionist.  And something of a planner...hell it was in my job title for most of my working life (the planner bit, not the perfectionist bit, just to clarify).

Which means, it could also be said, that not all of the 'relaxing' things I plan  are quite as perfectly relaxing as they should be.

Note 'plan' and 'should'.

If I plan a fun day...it HAS to be fun.  If I plan a jolly family gathering and somebody (especially me) utters something even vaguely miserable, I'm devastated. If I plan a romantic night out, bluebirds had better be circling overhead.  If the lighting in the restaurant isn't quite at the level I'd imagined, or I get seated in an area of the restaurant I deem not to be quite romantic enough, or the music is a bit off....or anything else that's not quite 'perfect', it's all ruined.  I'll smile through it but everyone in my vicinity will know (much to their detriment) everything is not quite as it 'should' be.

I have been known to traipse from restaurant to restaurant (to restaurant etc) in search of this holy grail of restaurant perfectness until the night is so beyond repair that no restaurant, no matter how perfect, could ever  salvage it.

Or to summarise: I tend to put a lot of pressure on both myself and other people to experience the occasion in the exact way I have planned/imagined the occasion should be experienced.

Or I did. Turns out this is an excellent example of a story I tell about myself that might not actually be true (something we all do by the way).  It is true that I once did this, but it turns out I don't really do it anymore (so desperate to hold onto this particular story I can't even say I don't do it...I've written I don't 'really' do it!). Turns out it's a story I'm carrying around in the present tense that should really be rewritten in the past tense.

And it took a quiet moment watching the world go by in Santorini to realise this about myself.

Actually I realised a few things.

Firstly, despite being sorely tempted to plan the whole short break to within an inch of its life (and ours), I made a conscious decision before we went not to plan anything at all about it. Actually I don't know if it was a conscious decision or not. I kept thinking about planning it but almost accidentally on purpose kept not doing anything about it. I had done the smallest amount of research as to what was on offer (and I do mean small, I read a few articles...when we went to Cuba I think I had about 20 different guide books, all annotated) but that was it.

On the one hand we only had a few days so I wanted to make sure we made the most of it. But on the other, and apparently much more important hand, making the most of it also meant not overdoing it. Making the most of the time, the place, each other. Just being. Not rushing around to pre-arranged plans and timings.  Even when we got there, something inside me refused to succumb to any arrangements at all. We just got up and went were we went and did what we did, when we felt like it.

first night

Oh ok, I did book a restaurant at the last minute on the first night as opposed to just seeing where we ended up or chancing our arm at a table with a sunset view. But that was the only time. And interestingly, the second night where we left it to chance, we ended up with a much better table at a much nicer restaurant and a much more spectacular view. Make of that what you will.

Anyway, there I was leaving (nearly) everything to chance and just mooching around without a plan (although ironically, I had planned not to have a plan so am still debating whether or not this counts. It's a step anyway). And instead of wandering around at a loose end or being all highly strung about missing out on whatever it was I hadn't planned into the agenda, I was relaxed. I was just being. I had relinquished foolish notions of being in control. I was present. I was soaking it all up and enjoying every single second of  it.

I'd just like to add at this point that I haven't given up 'planning' nor am I poo pooing it. Planning has its, often very important place, just that this wasn't it. The point here is that I'm learning to live without planning...and that life can't actually always be planned for.

Secondly, I realised that not all of the restaurants/bars/cafes/situations we ended up in would have quite met the 'perfect' grade had I been testing them. Which meant, I wasn't testing them.  I was just letting them be what they were and enjoying them for that, not bemoaning them for what they weren't.

The culprit
And then, on our last day we  both had in mind a specific sort of place for lunch.  We went into one place, sat down and decided it was a bit too busy and noisy, especially given the hangover courtesy of too much local rose the night before. We popped into the next place and decided the menu didn't appeal quite as much as some we'd seen. The third place was a bit iffy but from the roof terrace we spotted a 4th that looked just right. So we went there, and it was.  As I sat there I thought to myself, it feels like a long time since I've done that holy grail restaurant traipse. But more importantly, had we just done this particular restaurant traipse a few years ago I would have been quite wound up by now. I'd have been upset that we were wasting time, worried that I was annoying Alex traipsing from place to place, embarrassed to be leaving places as soon as I'd arrived, anxious that we were never going to find the right place, caught up on all the bad points of everywhere we tried and generally quite stressed by the whole thing.  But on this occasion I was carefree, relaxed and...happy.

us, looking happy
And I think this is what my whole long meandering post is about:  Happiness.

In the past I've focused on the planning, not on the moment, the living. I've relied on the restaurant, the event, the day, the occasion, the whatever it was I'd planned, the outside stuff to deliver the fun, the romance, the happiness.

But while a bad seat in a horrible restaurant can make an unhappy me unhappier, a good seat in a nice restaurant cannot be solely responsible for making me happy. It has to come from within. If it's not already there, the more you pursue it externally, the further away it feels.

And it was there in Santorini.  Yes it's a beautiful place, yes it's romantic and all the rest of it and all of that helps, but it has to be there already, inside.

So, I concluded, with a contented sigh, that this was proof. That somewhere along this journey I have learnt to relax, to switch off, to take the pressure off, to just be. That all this chatting happy, has paid off in some little way...

But please, for your own safety, never, ever offer me a seat facing into a corner in a restaurant.

I don't know what to do

This post was first published on www.tinybuddha.com.

Wait, let me say that again. I was published on Tiny Buddha!

Anyway, here it is:

He who deliberates fully before taking a step will spend his entire life on one leg.
​- Chinese Proverb

So, here’s the thing: I don't know what to do.

About this thing, about that thing. About big things and small things.

About anything.

Actually, to be honest even the smallest thing seems big when I don’t know what to do about it. The state of ‘not knowing what to do’ is like some kind of Miracle Grow for small things in my mind.

This is not a new thing. Not knowing what to do is a particular and well honed talent of mine. I can even juggle several not knowing what to dos at once.

For example, at the moment. I don’t know whether to go away with my friends this weekend or not. And if I do will I take the train? Or get a lift? I don’t know whether to take that new job. And if I do, when should I start it? What about all those other job offers that will flood through the door the minute I say yes to this one? I don’t know whether to start the diet tomorrow. Or today. Or next week. Or not at all. I don’t know whether to call my counsellor or ride this one out alone.

I don’t know what is best, what is right. I don’t know what I want to do.

Do you know what else I don’t know?

I don't know what to do about not knowing what to do.

And whenever I feel like this (which is not always, but often), I start not knowing what to do about things I DID know what to do about before. Things I had already made decisions on, things I felt excited and sure about before, now feel wobbly and wrong. Even though I know the decisions felt right when I made them.

My brain starts questioning it all: What if I didn't really know what to do then either, and just decided on something that wasn't really the right thing to do after all? What if it turns out to be 'wrong'? What if I acted on impulse and didn't think it all through properly?

It’s like I’m mourning all the other possible options that will never, ever happen now because I didn’t choose them.

The little voice in my head chides me: If you choose option a, then such and such might happen, which could lead to x and then that may mean y. Had I known in the beginning about y, maybe I wouldn't have chosen that original thing. Or would I? How do I know?

And this uncertainty; the worry; the anxiety; the not knowing: it isn't picky. It doesn't just stick to the thing I'm not sure about. It leaks. It seeps into everything else so instead of feeling uncertain or anxious about one thing in particular, about one decision specifically, I feel anxious, uncertain and worried full stop. I forget what started it. I just feel it.

I feel it in my chest, near my heart. In my throat. It feels like guilt, muddled with regret, with overtones of panic and an undercurrent of fear. It feels hard and cold, like a vice like grip.

And I don't like it.

But I just don't know what to do about it.

So I do nothing.

Except worry and be anxious that doing nothing is not the right thing to do.

It’s exhausting, it’s frustrating and it’s totally and utterly unproductive.

And the only thing that makes it stop?

Is to just decide and do something. To just do anything.

And the only way to know what to do? Well actually, there is no answer to that one.

Other than to not worry about worrying. To not feel anxious about feeling anxious. To accept that there is no right answer.

To breathe. To try to feel beyond the worry, to try to feel the answer rather than (over) think it.

To stop trying to second guess every possible outcome of every possible decision. To stop trying to control and account for every accountability. It just isn’t possible.

To trust.

I can’t know what will happen. I can’t know how I will feel about any of it. I can’t know whether the decision I make is any better or worse than any other decision I could have made because I am only ever going to experience the one path I do choose.

So, I can only react with what I have, what I know and how I feel, right here and right now. And I don’t need to know how to do that, I just need to do it. I just need to allow it to happen.

So, back to my decisions. Well, I still don't know what to do. I still don't know what the 'right' thing is.

But maybe that’s not so much of a problem after all.

Because I do know what the wrong thing is. And that's to make no decision at all. Even if the decision I make is not to decide just yet…THAT is still a decision. Own it.

A friend once said to me, “whenever the time is right, will be the right time”. It helps me relax about my decisions.

I often wonder: Am I the only one like this? I don’t know that either, but if you’re with me:

Stop thinking it through. Stop making up what might happen. Because that’s what’s happening here, you’re just making it up. Just make the decision instead and enjoy the ride. Whatever it turns out to be, it doesn’t really matter - you can change it later if you really have to.

Whatever the decision is, just make it - what's the worst that can happen, really?

Just make the decision and then be glad you did. Enjoy the freedom and the relief that follows. Enjoy the present, indecision free. Because while you’re busy worrying about what might happen tomorrow, guess what, you’re missing out on all the great stuff happening today.

So just decide. Just relax.

Want to know the good news? The decision thing is just as leaky as the indecision thing.

Once I get going again, I know there'll be no stopping me. I’ll breeze through decisions that floored me before. I’ll put those small things back in their place. And if it feels wrong: I’ll change it. I won’t worry about it. Things that felt a bit wrong and weird before just won’t matter anymore.

I won't know where this whole confident, decision making thing came from. I'll just feel it.

I'll feel it in my chest, near my heart. It will feel like contentment, embracing joy, tickled with peace and flavoured with lightness. It will feel soft and warm, like molten honey trickling through my veins. It will make me smile.

And I will love it. And I will do all I can to hold on to it.

That I do know.

So let’s just get started, let’s just relax. Let’s just decide. And let’s never look back.